NBA Playoffs, Lakers Thunder game 5: Kobe brings the tough defense and the Lakers bring the blowout

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Bryant_Gasol.jpgKobe Bryant is too old. He’s too injured. He’s no longer explosive. He’s played to many minutes over too many years. He’s lost a couple steps. He’s not THAT Kobe Bryant anymore.

Don’t try to sell that to Thunder coach Scott Brooks.

“Kobe had an impact on the game the stat sheet doesn’t show,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “The guy was competing and set the tone defensively… He won the game with this toughness tonight.”

Kobe took on the job of stopping Russell Westbrook and sparked the Lakers best game of this season. It was over at half, frankly, but you have to play the full 48 so after extensive garbage time (like the entire fourth quarter) it ended 111-87 Lakers. Los Angeles now leads the series three games to two.

The Lakers have thrown a big punch, but not a knockout one — game six is Friday night back in the thunderous Ford Center. The Thunder will get up off the mat, the test goes to them to see how much fight they have left.

After film session on Monday Bryant asked Phil Jackson if he could guard Westbrook, the strong and speedy point guard that had torn up the Lakers defense for two games. Westbrook had triggered a Thunder fast break that ran past the Lakers and made them look old in tying up the series.

The switch changed the defensive attitude of the Lakers. After giving up 61 points at the rim in two games in Oklahoma City — largely on transition plays — the Lakers held the Thunder to 7 fast break points in this game. Another part of that was a strategy that had Fisher go in to rebound and Ron Artest rotate back to be on defense. But the Lakers as a team hustled back and were physical (something the referees were letting go).

“It was going to be contested,” Kobe said of the Lakers defensive tone. “They weren’t going to just get to drive the ball to the basket and get layups and dunks uncontested. They were going to have to make tough shots.”

In the half-court, shooting jumpers, the Thunder have struggled all series. Tuesday night was no different. The Lakers got the game they wanted and raced out to a 14-1 lead — and unlike the fast lead in game three in Oklahoma City, the Lakers never let the Thunder back in. In the first half, the Thunder were 6 of 21 on jump shots. Nothing would fall. Nothing would change. It was just one of those nights for Oklahoma City.

On offense, the Lakers had the best ball movement they have had in months. Swinging side-to-side opened up passing lanes inside. It also opened up driving lanes for Kobe, who fed his big men. Kobe added he was good with that.

“I’ll tell you what, if I didn’t have Pau, Andrew, the crew that I have, I’d score 45 and everybody’d say ‘he shoots too much’,” Bryant said. “I have a great crew, I don’t need to do that. I can pick my poison, so when I get in the paint teams have to make choices. If they play me I’ll pass to my guys and they’ll have a big night. If not I’ll have a big night. It’s as simple as that.”

The Thunder tried everything – even a zone defense for a while in the third — but nothing worked. Gasol had 25, Bynum had 21. This was the Lakers night. This was Kobe’s night.

Friday night… that remains to be seen. The Oklahoma City fans will come to play, and Kevin Durant admitted the team really feeds on that. The Lakers will throw another big punch and try to end this thing. What remains to be seen is if the young Thunder are good enough counterpunchers to extend the series to game seven.

Rajon Rondo reportedly threw towel toward Bulls assistant during game, and they fedued more after

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 10: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Chicago Bulls gestures during the first half of the game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on November 10, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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The Bulls suspended Rajon Rondo for tonight’s game against the Trail Blazers for conduct detrimental to the team.

But what does that really mean?

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Rondo had an emotional exchange with an assistant coach during and after Saturday’s loss to the Mavericks, according to a source. One source said Rondo threw a towel in the direction of associate head coach Jim Boylen during the game and the situation escalated postgame.

Rondo has already apologized to the coaching staff and his teammates, the source said. He met with coach Fred Hoiberg on Sunday and also attended a team function that day.

Rondo has long been notoriously difficult to coach. That reputation has only intensified in recent years as his play has declined, which is probably not a coincidence. Struggling on the court – Rondo had two points, two assists and five turnovers against Dallas – will only lead to frustration. Plus, tolerance for players acting out exists on a sliding scale with their ability.

But it’s also worth noting teammate Jimmy Butler and coach Fred Hoiberg continue to speak positively about Rondo:

Butler said following Monday’s shootaround that Rondo “has been great” during his stint with the Bulls.

“I think this is just another bump in the road,” Butler said. “He’s a phenomenal damn teammate and I back him on everything.

Hoiberg refused to get into details about the suspension but echoed Butler’s opinion on Rondo’s stint with the Bulls.

“Rajon, as we’ve all said, has been great,” Hoiberg said. “A great teammate. I’ve enjoyed the relationship that we developed, and … it’s not going to change moving forward.’’

This could explain why Rondo got a one-game suspension for throwing a towel at a coach when Markieff Morris, who was already feuding with the Suns, got two games just last year (as could the fact that Chicago is not Phoenix and can administer discipline differently).

Player-coach feuds happen over a long season. The reaction is often telling. Some get ignored. Some result in suspensions.

The Bulls are treating this like an isolated incident from an otherwise model player – but a situation serious enough to warrant a suspension. Rondo will eventually prove that approach right or wrong.

Matt Barnes’ rep says Kings forward acted in self-defense in nightclub fight

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 27:  Matt Barnes #22 of the Sacramento Kings looks to pass the ball against the San Antonio Spurs during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game at Golden 1 Center on October 27, 2016 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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New York police reportedly want to question Kings forward Matt Barnes over a nightclub fight early this morning.

What happened between Barnes, teammate DeMarcus Cousins and other clubgoers?

TMZ:

A rep for the NBA star tells us … Barnes was having a good time at Avenue Nightclub with his teammate, DeMarcus Cousins, when he went to sit at his VIP booth and accidentally “butt bumped” a woman who was at the next booth over.

Barnes claims the woman reacted by slapping him in the face, hard — and that’s when all hell broke loose.

Barnes claims the woman’s crew — which included several men — jumped in and began to get violent. Barnes was knocked to the ground in the melee and one of the men began to choke him.

We’re told Barnes got physical in an effort to protect himself. Cousins also jumped in to defend Barnes.

We spoke with  Barnes’ attorney Alex Spiro who tells us, “We do not believe a crime was committed and are hopeful no charges will be pressed.”

By this telling, it sounds as if a crime was committed – with Barnes as the victim. I have no idea whether this account is accurate – what else would Barnes’ representation say? – and it’s reasonable for Barnes not to desire charges even against the other side. But it’s a little strange to hear Barnes’ lawyer give the other side such a quick reprieve while Barnes’ camp circulates this story of Barnes as a clear victim.

Bulls suspend Rajon Rondo for Trail Blazers game

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 09:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Chicago Bulls looks on from the bench in the final minutes of their 115-107 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 9, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Starting for an injured Rajon Rondo, Jerian Grant had 18 points and five steals in the Bulls’  25-point win against the Trail Blazers last month.

Grant will likely get another crack to start against Portland tonight.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

Chicago’s net rating with each starter on the court is lowest with Rondo:

But I doubt that’s the detrimental conduct the Bulls are referring to.

Chicago’s other starters have been dynamite with Grant instead of Rondo, outscoring opponents by 28 points per 100 possessions (relative to +10.6 with Rondo, still a robust mark). That’s a small sample with Grant, but we’ll get another opportunity to learn how this team meshes without Rondo.

Remember, though it started with a team-imposed one-game suspension, the Mavericks eventually told Rondo to stay away.

DeMarcus Cousins pushes handsy Joakim Noah (video)

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Joakim Noah kept his hands on DeMarcus Cousins after getting called for a foul, and that – and/or the Kings heading toward their third straight loss – agitated Cousins into pushing the Knicks center.

Remember, Cousins and Noah have a history.